The Taming of the Blame

“Let’s go, into the car! Now! You don’t want to miss circle time, do you? Come ON!”

At preschool: “Circle time is already starting. If you had put on your shoes and gotten in the car when I told you to, we wouldn’t be so late!”

How many times have I said this? How many times have I unnecessarily blamed my daughter for making us late, or making me trip over a toy or tromping over my garden? How many times have I criminalized typical toddler behavior?

The other day, when I stubbed my toe on the book I’d left on the floor, and I immediately tried to find a way to blame my husband, I realized I’m addicted to blame. Whenever something bad happens to me, finding fault is my first impulse. And then I fire off the blame, wherever I think it lies. Sometimes it’s legitimate. Living in a house with a man and two kids, I’m bound to stub my toe on a step stool or trip over a laundry basket fairly often, and I can’t control that. But I can control my response.

What good does it do to yell at a toddler for leaving the stool in my path yesterday? She’s too young to learn to correct past behavior. At her age, the behavior and consequence must be immediate. Is it worth it to instigate a fight with my husband because I tripped over his laundry? I’m sure he’s tripped over mine many a time.

So what good comes from blaming? It makes me feel better. For a moment – that moment when toe hits stool or knee hits hamper – I’m mad and railing against it gives me some relief. I still feel the pain but I try to dissipate the anger.

I think all blame is an attempt to relieve anger, or disappointment, or guilt. At least all the blame I dole out to my family serves that purpose. But it’s not healthy. I know it isn’t because, as an only child, I shouldered the blame for everything. My dad left the top off the cake stand – my mom blamed me. My mom dawdled getting out of the house and I’d stay with her – I got blamed. As the universal scapegoat, I developed an exaggerated sense of responsibility and enough shame to give me a permanent view of my shoes. It’s wasn’t just me, I have learned. All only children carry that weight. To add to it, for years my mom would tell me how she blamed herself for my 84-year-old grandmother’s death. “I should never have put her in that hospital!” she’d say through the flow of tears. I was 19 when Yaya died but I was still under my parents’ influence at the time. Accepting all blame came so easily it seemed like a normal part of life.

Knowing that, I realize that I am yoking my child with the same burdens I held. So it has to stop, or slow down, or something. There’s nothing wrong with teaching her to take her to take responsibility for her actions. That’s constructive and healthy. But taking away her scissors because she cut up my dress is different than making her feel responsible for dawdling every time we’re late. Toddlers are natural dawdlers. I am the adult and I need to find a way to be on time.

So I recently changed our morning routine. Getting Rose out of the house for school used to be a nightmare. I’d give us 10 minutes to get out of the house, and the whole process consisted of me yelling at her for that 10 minutes. Hoping to save time on the way out the door, I used to put Rose’s socks and shoes on her an hour before we left. She would inevitably remove those shoes and socks by go time and I’d get all mad and demand that she keep them on. It never worked.

Reminding myself that I am the adult and it’s up to me to captain our egress, I added another 10 minutes to get out the door. It worked. It’s still frustrating to urge the kids out of the house, but now that we’re not rushing, I’ve stopped scolding. And just recently, I decided that we would let go of the dream that she’d keep her footwear on. Now we adorn our shoes and socks at the door, just before we leave. And it works. It really does work. I still catch myself shaming her when we’re late, but it’s a lot less frequent and I’m a lot more aware. I also found out that circle time is at the end of the school day, not the beginning. No wonder she was always so baffled when I said she’d miss it.

Now when I shame her, I immediately shame myself. It doesn’t sound healthy, but feeling shame over doing something truly wrong is good for me. I don’t want to feel that way so I watch my behavior the next time. I think soon I’ll be able to get us out the door without any regrets.

Blaming my husband is another matter. He does know better but I realize that I don’t cut him any slack. When I stub my toe on the gym bag he left in the hallway I still get mad, and it’s not easy to forgive him. But it’s usually not long until I trip over my own laundry basket and want to blame him that I realize I try to blame him for everything. If I could leave my basket in my own path then it’s unreasonable to expect him to monitor our course through the bedroom every time he puts something down. I impose higher standards on him than I do on myself. The least I can do for the guy is hold us to the same measuring stick. This one’s a little harder, but I ‘m working on it. To do so, I have to remember that neither of us is perfect; and I have to ask myself, will it matter in two minutes when the pain subsides?

Blame comes down to pain. When I think of the long-term effects, I realize blame causes more pain than it relieves. It destroys trust and can ruin relationships. Hell, it’s even started wars. So why would I voluntarily inflict pain on the people I love? I can get over my anger faster than they can get over my words, so I have to remember to tame the blame.